The Presidential campaign season is now in full swing, as President Obama tours the country in support of his reelection, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann scored an unexpected victory in the Iowa Staw Poll and the race for the Republican nomination suffered its first casualty as former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the running.
This week, BOOM! Studios announced an innovative "straw poll" of its own, a series of biographical comics featuring Obama and top members of the GOP field with the winner being determined by whichever comic receives the most pre-orders. Comic Book Resources spoke with BOOM!'s Marketing and Sales Director Chip Mosher for more details on the project and an exclusive look at a cover that will not see print.
CBR News: Chip, what led BOOM! Studios to develop this line?
Chip Mosher: It all came together pretty organically. For some time, we'd been talking internally about doing a topical comic book, something based in reality. We have toyed over the years with the idea of doing biographical comics -- mostly trying to figure out the right subject. One thing I love about working at BOOM! is that we publish such a variety of work that appeals to people outside the typical comic book reading public. So we knew we wanted to do something topical. We knew we wanted to do something that would bring new readers to the medium -- and we wanted to do it in a way that had its own BOOM! spin. But more specifically, like everything at BOOM!, someone comes up with a good idea and presents it to the team. And if it's good -- we do it.
I'm a pretty huge politico, I keep up with current events. Politics is something I've always been into. When I was a kid I watched the whole Iran Contra hearings on TV -- weeks' worth! And through some family connections, I got to meet Poindexter's lawyer, Dick Beckler -- who was one of the stars of the hearings. It was fascinating to talk to him about the hearings right afterward. One of my first jobs out of high school in entertainment was on a film crew covering the 1992 Republican National Convention. (That may or may not have involved driving Robert Downey, Jr., around -- I'll never tell!) Politics is just something I've always been interested in.
So one night, I was surfing the web and I saw an image of all the 2012 presidential candidates lined up, shoulder to shoulder, and the whole idea of doing comic book's first straw poll just popped into my head. I came into work and talked to Ross [Richie, BOOM!'s Founder and CEO], Matt [Gagnon, Editor-in-Chief] and Wes [Harris VP of Publishing] -- who all thought it was a great idea and we were off to the races. So if this takes off everyone can take credit for it -- but if this falls flat on its face, the blame will squarely be on my shoulders! [Laughs]
There's also an educational component to it, to get people involved in the political process. The Iowa Straw Poll was really important, but only Iowans can participate in it and it costs $30. This is nearly ten times cheaper and the whole nation can vote!
What's the thought behind promoting it this way -- top ordered book wins?
I'm personally in the camp that what DC's doing with the "new 52" is a spectacular idea. For me, it's obviously a publishing program targeted at getting lapsed comic book readers back into comics. If you think about the market segments for comic periodicals, you have your current comic book shoppers, your lapsed comic book shoppers and your brand new readers. Getting lapsed readers back into comics is by far the lowest hanging fruit to expand the market right now. With new readers, it's an uphill climb on educating them on the basics of our hobby -- that comics come out monthly, that comics contain serialized fiction that comes out month-to-month, etc. I think most fans take for granted that everyone knows the bare bones basics of how our industry works, but I've seen time and time again that people out there don't. So one thing I wanted to do with this program was incentivize non-comic book fans to go and pre-order comics at their local comic book shop. If we can help get a person in the store and used to pre-ordering a comic, there's a greater opportunity for folks at the retail level to get these new customers involved in other types of comics too. That's the hope, anyway!
How is this similar to -- and distinct from -- IDW's Presidential comics during the 2008 elections or Bluewater's biographical line? How, if indeed they did at all, did the success of those other companies' projects influence the creation of this line the direction BOOM! went with these books?
IDW had a great idea with their Presidential comics in 2008, and Bluewater really took the idea and ran with it. You know, in comic publishing companies are always riffing off each other. Some of my best marketing ideas comes from reading about early comic book history. We're all standing on each other's shoulders. But in that, you hope to add your own unique spin -- and I think by promoting this with the idea of a "Straw Poll," we've upped the ante a bit. And then Matt goes and puts someone of Jeffrey Spokes' caliber on covers, who is best known for doing our "Irredeemable" "C" covers for the first 12 issues, and you got the beginning of something really special.
You're encouraging pre-orders -- "voting" is part of the fun -- but inevitably there will be some readers who wait to pick up these issues in stores, some readers who don't hear about this promotion until they see the issues in stores and some impulse buys. If these issues sell out, will you go back to press, or are these limited to one print run?
Man, I really hope to have those problems! I'd love to sell out and go back to press!
Somewhat related to this, will these issues be available digitally? If some don't meet the order threshold for print, will those be released digitally? Will digital "votes" count toward the straw poll?
Unfortunately, there isn't a really good way to pre-order comics digitally these days, so there wasn't really a clean way to get digital "votes." We're looking at digital availability when they release. But that something that is not set in stone at this point.
The GOP field is changing fast -- had there been a Tim Pawlenty comic planned? Will you add Chris Christie or Paul Ryan if they jump in?
Tim Pawlenty has one of the shortest Presidential campaigns of the modern era. If he had only waited a week, he could have participated in "Comic Books' First Straw Poll" and who knows, that could have changed the outcome of the whole race! [Laughs] Being prepared, we are revealing for the first time the Tim Pawlenty cover here on Comic Book Resources!
We're pretty nimble here at BOOM!, so if a compelling candidate gets in the race, we'll add them. We couldn't get everyone, so we kept it just to who had been allowed into the last couple of debates for the Republican side. You know, Buddy Roemer is running, Fred Karger is running and cult favorite Jimmy McMillan -- but you have to draw the line somewhere. Which is unfortunate. Of course, we had to put Sarah Palin in, even while she has not officially declared.
These are intended to be non-partisan comics, but sometimes the details of biography can be politicized, even without intending to be. What is BOOM!'s approach to creating fair biographical comics? How might you respond to folks finding or interpreting bias in a story?
We are taking pains to make these comics as non-partisan as possible. That is something that is important and that Matt is taking great pains with in the editorial process.
Are there creative teams in place for these comics yet? If so, who's doing what?
Man, I got to keep something back to have for a second press release, you know!
Pre-order your favorite candidate's bio by September 29 to vote; all issues will be released in November